LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
One thing is certain in this year's NBA finals: Both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs sure know how to recover after a loss. After losing a close Game 1, the Heat throttled San Antonio by 19 points in Game 2. Then last night San Antonio returned the favor and then some. The Spurs' 36-point blowout was highlighted by a record-setting three-point shooting barrage and more good defense on a struggling LeBron James.
From San Antonio, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Before the barrage, tension at San Antonio's AT&T Center. The beast was awakening. Miami's LeBron James, the beast, had been mired in yet another ineffective performance as the Spurs played with a double-digit lead throughout the game. But late in the third quarter, James finally got his offense going. Nine straight points to bring the Heat to within 15 as the quarter ended. And then...
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GOLDMAN: San Antonio reserve guard Gary Neal nailed another three point bomb. He'd hit four in the first half to ease the tension. And he wasn't done.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GOLDMAN: Thirty-four seconds later, Neal struck again. Some of his magic three-point pixie dust then rubbed off on teammate Danny Green. He followed with four three-pointers on his way to seven total and a game high 27 points, as Miami melted into the hardwood like the Wicked Witch of the West - even though they're from the East. San Antonio sank a finals record 16 three-pointers, and at times it simply looked like shooting practice.
Afterwards, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was ticked off that the Miami defense - so good in Game 2 - was a no-show last night.
ERIK SPOELSTRA: We got what we deserved. Every shot they wanted to get, they got. We did not disrupt them. I didn't recognize the team that was out there.
GOLDMAN: Nor did basketball fans recognize LeBron James. Again, it was another game of ho-hum statistics for him - 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists. But more importantly, another game of failing to impose his will, as he's done so many times in his career. And one stat in particular bore that out: No free throw attempts, reportedly the first time that's happened this year.
SPOELSTRA: It's shocking.
GOLDMAN: Spurs guard Danny Green may have been shocked but he knows that he, and certainly teammate Kawhi Leonard, James' principal defender, are doing a bang-up job containing James. And it was something to see, really, as James, nicknamed the Chosen One, struggled, while Green - let's call him the Unchosen One - soared. Cut multiple times during his career, including twice by the Spurs, Green finally listened to what San Antonio coaches kept telling him.
Here's head coach Greg Popovitch.
GREG POPOVITCH: About being confident and about going after a job like he really wanted it. You know, take no prisoners, so to speak. Act like somebody's trying to take something away from you.
GOLDMAN: It's fitting that Green and Gary Neal both busted out in the same game. Neal's story is similar. Undrafted out of college, he played in Europe for three years before getting a chance with the Spurs in last year's summer league and impressing enough to make the team, and after six three-pointers and 24 points last night, helping San Antonio win in the NBA finals, which the Spurs now lead two games to one.
Two more games to a title, the next two games in San Antonio. Sounds ominous for the defending champ Heat, who hope form holds tomorrow night and the vanquished rise again.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.